Sanctification of the Whole Person: Spirit, Soul, and Body

Some Renewalists of the Word of Faith variety say our redeemed spirit is perfect, but not our redeemed soul. True?

The key verse for this post is 1 Thess. 5:23, which says, “May the God of peace purify you thoroughly, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is some discussion whether we are three parts or two. See my post for a longer exploration of the topic:

Is Humankind Two or Three Parts?

Here it is assumed we are three parts.

The main point is that God wants to sanctify all of us, every part, in a daily walk with him.

1.. The human spirit needs sanctification.

The spirit is the deepest part of human nature. A synonym is the heart. God immediately encounters man in the spirit or heart. But sin has alienated the human spirit from God, so God needs to redeem and save it. God’s Spirit witnesses to our spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16).

However, the human spirit needs to be purified and refined every day. 2 Cor 7:1 admonishes us to cleanse or purify ourselves from every defilement or pollution of body and spirit. This is a daily prayer.

Eph. 4:31-32 says to put away all bitterness, rage, anger, slander, brawling, and slander and instead to be tenderhearted and forgiving. Heart can be interpreted as spirit.

The psalmist says that his spirit faints in him and his heart dismayed (Ps. 143:4).

And David prayed after his sin with Bathsheba and his plotting the death of her husband that God would create clean heart in him and renew a right spirit in him (Ps. 51:10). Yes, this is the Old Covenant, but people still need to repent, even in their spirits.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians that the God would establish their hearts blameless in holiness (1 Thess. 3:12-13). Heart and the deepest part of humankind—the spirit—go together and need to maintain blamelessness.

And in Rom. 2:15 the conscience is placed alongside heart, where the law is written on it, and the conscience bears witness to it. The conscience is the moral part of the heart or spirit. It is a gift of God so humans who lived before or far way from the law of Moses can still live decent and respectful lives.

A clean and clear conscience is imperative for the believer. Please study these Scriptures: Acts 24:16; 1 Tim. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:3; Heb. 13:18; 1 Pet. 3:16-21.

To wrap up this section, I quote Renewal theologian J. Rodman Williams:

All three of these biblical terms, ‘spirit,’ ‘heart, and ‘conscience,’ refer to man in his responsible nature before God. In salvation, there has been a renewing of the spirit, an alteration of the heart, a purifying of the conscience. However, although this has occurred essentially (man has a new spirit / heart / conscience), there is the need for further sanctification (vol. 2, p. 95).

2.. The human soul needs sanctification.

The soul is also the inner life of humanity through which the spirit expresses itself. It is the living and conscious soul or self. The mind, will, and feelings are all aspects of the soul in action.

When sin invaded, the soul was darkened and turned away from God. When salvation enters the person, the mind can ponder the things of God. Yet the soul needs daily purification.

Let’s break the soul into these parts: the mind, the feelings (emotions, desires, passions), and the will.

The mind needs to be renewed. Rom. 12:2 says that we must not be conformed to this world, but we must be transformed. The word “transformed” is the source of our word metamorphosis. Think of a caterpillar being transformed.

But how does this happen? Our mind needs to be renewed. And the best way is to inject into the mind wholesome things, like Scripture. Phil. 4:8 says to think on everything that is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. We must counteract our soulish impulses that pull us down towards darkness and sin and raise it up. We think on Christ and his being seated at the right hand of God; think on things above (Col. 3:1-2).

As 2 Cor. 10:5 says, we must take very thought captive. It has to be a deliberate strategy. It does not come automatically.

Next, the feelings, emotions, passions and desires need to be sanctified. Paul says the desires of the flesh oppose the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:17). We must crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24). Paul writes to Timothy to instruct people to deny ungodliness and worldly desires (2 Tim. 2:11-12) and then he writes a little later to shun youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:21-22). And 1 John 2:15-16 says not to love the world—the cravings of sinful humans. The lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has done—none of those things come from the Father.

So the feelings, emotions, and desires need to be sanctified.

The other part of the soul—the will-needs to be sanctified, too. This can be summed up in all the above verses, because outside of Christ the will is in bondage to cravings and desires and passions. Rom. 7:14-20 describes the saved man who struggles with what he wants to do or not wants to do, but does the opposite. Only God can set him free from the power of sin. It is the process of sanctification.

3.. The body needs sanctification.

The body houses the soul and spirit. When the body dies, we go to be with the Lord, and then the bodily desires evaporate or die with the body. But that has not happened yet. Our bodies drag us around, if we let them.

The body needs sanctification. We already saw that 2 Cor. 7:1 says to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit. 1 Thess. 4:3-4 says the will of God is our sanctification, which includes abstaining from sexual immorality and to know how to possess his own vessel (body) in sanctification and honor. Our bodies are members of Christ, so we should not mix them up with a prostitute (1 Cor. 6:15). We are not our own, but we were bought with a price, so let’s glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20). But sex is not the only sin of the body—intoxication and gluttony (overeating) are problems too. Prov. 23:20-21 is clear about hanging out with drinkers (and other intoxicants) and the gluttonous. Bodily appetites must be controlled, or else we will die a premature death.

How does this post help me grow in Christ?

As noted in all the other posts:

Sanctification literally means the process or act (-ion) of making (fic-) holy (sanct-). It could be called by the made-up and awkward term “holy-fication.” So once God consecrates you at your salvation-conversion, it becomes a process; don’t feel bad if you stumble once in a while. Just get up and realize that your walk in holiness is a long, long process of growing in Christ.

In the New Testament, it is used in the past tense, (believers have been sanctified), present tense (believers are being sanctified), and future tense (believers will be sanctified).

Complete maturity and growth towards the goal of being like Christ is the ultimate quest. You do this daily by praying, reading Scripture, and staying in fellowship with believers who are more mature than you.

Sanctification begins when you are first saved. In fact, you are sanctified instantly, because the Holy Spirit fills you and because Christ is your sanctification or holiness (1 Cor. 1:30). You are separated instantly from the common or profane are set on the new path of a holy life. This is positional or declared sanctification—and yet you experience it instantly because the Holy Spirit lives in you. Compare holiness with wisdom that is also in 1 Cor. 1:30. Christ has become your wisdom; that’s your declared position in him, though you are not perfectly wise in practice.

However, this positional or declared or promised wisdom in Christ is experienced day by day, as you work it out.

It works out like this:

Positional or declarative: Christ has become your sanctification or holiness (or perfection).

Experiential: Christ works out in you his sanctification or his holiness (or his perfection) daily.

The positional and experiential happen at the same time. If you have any perfection in you, it is Christ himself alone living in you through the Spirit, not you. And he is leading you to become more like him throughout your entire life.

In other words,

Initial sanctification ≠ Sinless, moral perfection

There’s progress in the process, until you die or the Lord returns. Only then will you be morally, sinlessly perfect.

Justification is different from sanctification in these ways:

Justification Sanctification
Legal standing Internal condition
Once and for all time Continuous throughout life
Entirely God’s work We cooperate with God
Perfect in this life Imperfect in this life
The same in all Christians Greater in some than in others
Source: Grudem, p. 746

As noted in the other posts, the only slight disagreement is that God declares us holy only because he transfers us from darkness to light, from the profane to the sacred; we are consecrated to him, no longer to the world. But now we work it out. Justification and sanctification are linked, but distinct. The order is really logical, not sequential in time, according to NT theology. That is, logically, legal declaration by God comes before we humans practice holiness and righteousness. Logically, we receive righteousness as a free gift before we can have it infused in us by the work of the Spirit. (If we believed that our holiness logically came before God’s gift of righteousness, Paul would say his theology was turned upside down and out of order.) Logically, your personal sanctification never launches God’s declaration of your right legal standing and your being born again (regeneration), or else Christianity would resemble other religions, particularly certain strands of Saul’s / Paul’s old Judaism. Just the opposite is the case. Your repentance (by grace) and your saving faith (by grace), and your new birth (by the Spirit) and God’s declared righteousness–all of this at the same time–launches your sanctification process.

Written by James Malcolm

RELATED

Bible Basics on Sanctification and Holiness

What Is Sanctification?

How Is Sanctification Done?

Sanctification of the Whole Person: Spirit, Soul, and Body

Sanctification: Can Christians Achieve Sinless Perfection Now?

Sanctification: Past, Present, Future

SOURCES

Works Cited at Renewal Theology

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